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The Najib Baz Football Field at Brummana High School (BHS) was basking in the mellow warmth of an autumn sun while Roumieh resident and bank IT Manager Michel Wakil was wrapping up the last couple of laps of a 40 k run. His final long distance run before competing in the Beirut Marathon on December 6th was going to take him a little over three hours. Not bad for an amateur who started running eleven years ago at the BHS football field.
“I used to bring my two daughters here to play on their bicycles. I noticed there were some joggers running round the track. I decided there and then to join them,” said Michel when he’d finished his run. “Since then, I’ve run ten marathons and done a lot of my training on the track here. It’s safe, even at night and since half the track is sandy, it’s been good for my knees and ankles. I’m not sure I could have done it without the use of this field. So thanks to BHS really. They’ve been supporting me and plenty of other runners for years.”
Veteran runner Joey Fakhoury, who has a daughter at BHS, started his running career at the BHS sports field when he was only 10 years old. Since then he has run marathons all over the world. His favourite distance is the 100 km ultra marathon in which he has a personal best of 8h 48m 36s - and to put that distance into perspective, it’s a 100 km car ride from Beirut down the coast to Sour.
Educator Yvonne Stead Nasr completed her first and only Beirut marathon in just over 5 hours, after training by running laps at the BHS football field. Interior designer and Roumieh resident Carla Jabbour, a running champion when at College Notre Dame de Jamhour, not only runs round the field, but also runs up the stairs towards the Basketball Court. Other runners who regularly clock up the kilometers two or three times a week on the football field are: BHS staff member Barbara Aghajanian, who famously got up one morning and ran the first Sour Half Marathon without any training whatsoever; BHS parents and sisters Tanya Nakhle and Colette Ladkani; BHS Old Scholar Paul Abi Nader; and community member Bassam Aswad.
There’s something all these runners have that never fails to inspire - the focus, the determination, the effort they put in… and then when they stop, the look of jubilant exhaustion etched across their faces. Maybe that’s not so surprising. Michel reckons he’s run 35,000 km in the last few years - which represents a lot of laps. Fellow BHS runner and father of two BHS graduates, JP Niemela, worked out years ago that if he ran tight around the outside of the track, one lap was 375 meters. “You mustn’t cheat. At the northern end of the track near the buttress wall, where you can see the beautiful BHS logo - I Serve - there is a concrete platform. If you avoid it and clip the corner, you lose a couple of meters… and it all counts in the end.”
JP has run two Beirut Marathons with Michel. The first was a disappointment for him. He got a severe attack of cramp and ended up crawling across the finishing line after 5½ hours of agony. “I’d like to say the second was easier - all I can say is that I finished in a very respectable time and ran over the line. There’s no such thing as an easy marathon.”
JP now runs for pleasure around the track. Coming from a wintry Finland, he says that for him the BHS football field is a paradise on earth. He thinks nothing of running 30 laps on the football field. “Look at the blue sky, the green pines, the view down to the sea… how lucky we are.”
The Najib Baz Football Field was constructed more than 50 years ago in a joint operation by the School and the local community. It is named after the BHS Property Manager who supervised the project. Brummana resident Micheline Sawaya says, “Without his perseverance and doggedness to a great extent, fund collecting efforts, love and dreams for the school, I doubt that such a gigantic and costly project would have ever seen the light.” For more than a year villagers tipped rubble, stones and garbage into the gully that marked the boundary of the school grounds. When the gully filled up, a retaining wall was constructed from stone blocks on the side facing the sea. The wall towers more than forty meters high and holds the field firmly on the mountain side. The central area of rubble was covered over with loose earth - which is why every so often rust red stones emerge from underground. In the following years the School has continued to improve the football field facilities - most recently new fencing, lighting, and a 100 m track were added.
There are plans now for BHS to raise funds to rehabilitate the whole field properly - to grass over the football pitch and resurface the running track. The BHS runners welcome this, saying a surface more gentle on the joints will keep them running for longer… although one BHS jogger said with nostalgia, “I suppose that will mean the end of the spring anemone - I used to run all winter through the slush and the rain waiting for that single red flower to bloom. When I saw it, I knew spring had arrived.”
Michel crossed the finishing line of the Beirut Marathon on December 6th in 3 hours 40 minutes, his eleventh marathon, and received his medal for running 42.2k. He is now back on Sundays quietly running around the sandy track of Brummana High School. And maybe he and all the other amateur runners who are welcomed by BHS to enjoy the football field, might just see the spring anemone one more time before reconstruction works commence.